“The death of education as we know it may be the birth of learning as we need it”

I’m more than a bit late with my NAIS annual conference round up but then …excuses, excuses…what with returning to Poughkeepsie with a rotten cold,  the remaining effects of a  mega storm that closed school for three days (ably dealt with by Steve Mallet and the division heads) and then all the catching up…. So – a few random and incomplete notes and reflections.

First – a frustration. When you start to take free wifi for granted it’s annoying to be confined to a hotel lobby for a connection and beyond the lobby feels like being nickle and gouged for internet access. And then find yourself only intermittently able to be on line during the conference itself and always in danger of battery outage.  Why is that?

Now to the conference – bottom line: Great. Congratulations and thanks to all concerned and for Pat Bassett’s leadership, his avatar Captain Independent notwithstanding. Actually that was entertaining. (I leave aside the Wonder Woman misstep and I hope she got paid well to wear the costume. She assured me it was fun.)

But the key issue was the theme and content which flowed well from last year and allowed for a little celebration at having weathered all the storm metaphors.

And the theme was clearly transformation, adaptation, renewal, evolution. Call it what you will – the game of change is clearly afoot and this conference was charged with ideas, examples and tactics.

Disruptive Change is here now and it’s more than time to pay attention. Disruption is the new normal and the challenge for educators is to keep figuring out what that means when it comes to educating children for the world they will inherit. It was amusing then, to hear one of the high powered panelists with Pat Bassett in “The Power of Transformation: Disrupting your Institution to make it Relevant” trot out a canned and cloth-eared reference to Toyota.

It was in that workshop that Pat came out with the zinger that became “The tweet heard around the world” – apparently the most tweeted line from the conference. I heard it as:  “The death of education as we know it may be the birth of learning as we need it”.

As Bruce Hammond pointed out, it’s interesting to note that five of the articles in the spring edition of Independent School Magazine are written by members of the Independent Curriculum Group. (ICG, Bruce is the executive director). PDS is now a member and that means a seat on the board. As a school that has always structured time for high school interdisciplinary courses, and has never taught to the test (even as our students have taken them), it is good to be in such great and growing company.

Those articles go a long way to correct misperceptions of independent schools as uniformly bastions of tradition and conservatism. Indeed, so many schools across the country are doing innovative work and taking up the challenge of what it means to be a school for 2010 and the future. There are times when it feels like everyone is now catching on to what PDS has always championed. Just because we can sometimes sit back and say – “done that”, “do that” at PDS – does not mean we cannot learn and grow. Indeed, we must.

So, what did I choose to attend and what did I learn? Shut out of the session I wanted on Wednesday (“Leading toward a sustainable future”) I wandered the halls and dropped in on “Be like Google” led by Presbyterian Day School in Memphis.  (Known as PDS – how annoying is that?) Lots of interesting ideas on display as the presenters told the story of how they used and applied Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation at their school.

Later that day, it was good to catch up with some of the New Heads Institute ’06 cohort and trade stories.

Mimi Ito is a Stanford based international expert on how people use mobile technologies and new digital media in their everyday lives. In her presentation she asked some very pertinent questions about our assumptions. “Why do we assume kids only learn in school?”  And “Why do we assume that children online are not learning?”

Children growing up in a radically different media environment that keeps them connected 24hours a day present new challenges for educators who must grapple with the divide between home and school and seek proactive ways to bridge the gap.

With examples of new behaviors and opportunities for passionate and interest-centered learning she urged us to look at new media environments as a place of promise and potential. The complex narratives of Pokémon for example – and how children flock to participate with contagious media that is playful and interactive.

In this highly personalized and informal play, skills and literacy are a by-product not the focus of the engagement.

She had some good examples of community standards and how they are learned, developed and maintained in online environments.

Next up: Tina Seelig and Innovation as an Extreme Sport.

Meanwhile the conversation and community continue online at: NAIS Annual Conference

I had forgotten how many people seem to live on the streets of San Francisco. This man was reading in the drizzle by the light of a street advertisement.

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